Theater Review: By the Bog of Cats

Repetitive modern tragedy a difficult farewell for UCSB director
March 7, 2006 12:00 AM
“By the Bog of Cats” will probably go down in UCSB Theater Department history more as the last production from director Judith Olauson than for any merit of the play itself.
With 30 years of directing under her belt, Ms. Olauson has given Santa Barbara audiences some classic productions.
Even in this reviewer’s comparatively short eight years viewing UCSB Theater’s output, Ms. Olauson’s rèsumè contains good memories: her brilliant “A Raisin in the Sun,” the blood-spattered “Elektra” and the most recent “Translations.”
Ms. Olauson caught the Irish playwright bug some years back — she has directed Brian Friel’s “Molly Sweeney,” Sean O’Casey’s “The Shadow of a Gunman” and J.M. Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World.”
However, playwright Marina Carr’s “By the Bog of Cats” at UCSB’s Hatlen Theatre is by turns inexplicable, interminable and repetitive. During its 21/2-hour running time, there is much time to wonder why Ms. Olauson chose the play.

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Theater Review: The Saint Plays

February 28, 2006 12:00 AM
Westmont College adds yet another bizarre chapter to Santa Barbara’s theater scene with its current production of Erik Ehn’s “The Saint Plays.”
The chance to perform four of these short works is a coup of sorts for the theater department — even more so considering one of the plays derives directly from workshopping with the students themselves. Needless to say, this section is a world premiere.
According to the playwright, he has written almost 100 short plays based on the Catholic saints, from 40-minute pieces to short, wordless tableaux, with more to come.
Some are hagiographies, while others are “exploded biographies” — a phrase he never really defines, but, after watching Friday night’s performance, must allude to the hundreds of small pieces of narrative that will never get put back together again.

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Theater Review: Brown Baby

Headline-based ‘Brown Baby’ favors melodrama over characters
February 22, 2006 10:15 AM
An essential part of our state’s economy, illegal immigration is the dark shadow that capital casts when laws and regulations are bent or are not enforced. Illegal workers look at Americans and see the life they’d like to lead; Americans look back and see straight through the men and women who do the menial jobs or they see an amassed threat. A porous border, now more dangerous with the inclusion of the dubious “Minutemen” weekend warriors, is all that separates “us” from “them.” And both people may be more similar than we think.
Carlos Morton’s “Brown Baby” at UCSB Performing Arts Theatre comes professing its timeliness with a story ripped from today’s headlines, as they say. Only these headlines have been in the paper for years now — a situation that seems unlikely to change unless it’s going to get worse.
Maria (Victoria Ramos), with daughter Silvia (Aja Naomi King) in tow, has to leave their hometown of Oaxaca, Mexico, when her husband is gunned down by police for having ties to the left-wing opposition party. Pregnant with his child, Maria seeks out the help of the rich Doña Victoria de los Santos (Tiffany Rose Brown). Maria needs passage to America; Doña Victoria can help for a price. Indebted to the price of $3,000, Maria believes that her benefactor will get her work. What we know already is that Doña Victoria is conspiring to keep Maria just south of the San Diego border to sell off her baby in the American black market.

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Theater Review: The Last Liberal

‘Liberal’ looks to a satirical future and Bush 3.0
February 22, 2006 12:00 AM
“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.” Karl Marx (by way of Hegel) may have been describing the first and second terms of the Bush administration. Or he may have been thinking of Bob Potter’s new comedy “The Last Liberal,” a sequel of sorts to the much more serious “The Space Between the Stars,” now onstage at the Center Stage Theater, a production of Dramatic Women.
Political satire is at turns easy and difficult. Easy because the Bush administration provides weekly fodder of outrage and incompetence for the nation’s comedians; difficult because there is so much material that a Harriet Miers joke would already have to be explained a bit to make it work. (Q: Harriet who? A: Exactly).

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Theater Review — The Fourth Wall

From today’s S.B. News-Press:
‘Fourth Wall’ is entertaining and troubling

Following on the heels of Genesis West’s production of Caryl Churchill’s deconstructionist “Blue Heart” last month, Ensemble Theatre Company’s presentation of A. R. Gurney’s “The Fourth Wall” adds to the boundary-breaking this theater season.
The play’s title alone suggests something meta-theatrical will be up. The invisible fourth wall that separates performer from audience — can it really be torn down? And does this mean an evening of mortifying audience participation?
Thankfully not, but Mr. Gurney’s play is an odd duck. Not too radical to upset the general public, it hints at subversion but hedges its bets in the second half. I can imagine many being entertained and pleased by Mr. Gurney’s work, but I can’t imagine many being deeply satisfied with it.
But there’s lots to like. We open on a suburban living room, radiant in warm, rosy colors. Two characters enter: Roger (Robert Lesser), a “successful businessman,” and Julia (Gillian Doyle), an old friend from New York. The dialogue is overwritten; the performances wooden.

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bobrauschenbergamerica – Theater Review

From the News-Press:
Play asks if collage can save the republic
By Ted Mills
If we are, as a recent issue of Wired proclaimed, the era of the remix, with a treasure chest of late 20th-century culture to plunder, then we should look back at pre-postmodernist, post-abstract expressionist, pre-pop collagist Robert Rauschenberg as one of the earliest remixers. His found-object works prompted walkouts and consternation, though his use of Americana was more affectionate than sarcastic.
Charles L. Mee’s post-9/11 attempt to reclaim a forward-thinking view of America looks to Mr. Rauschenberg’s collage for suggestions and asks if there’s anything that we can reclaim to heal this republic, diseased and ailing from war and debt. Or is mom and apple pie a museum piece?

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Play Review – Gunfighter

My review of the latest production at SBCC, as it appeared in the News-Press:
Unfriendly Fire
Gulf War drama suffers script weaknesses

Mark Medoff’s “Gunfighter: A Gulf War Chronicle,” which opens Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group’s fall theater season, is based on the true story of Lt. Col. Ralph Hayles, whose career was ruined in a friendly-fire incident during the 1991 conflict.
Despite the apparent culpability of others higher up, and the number of similar incidents that went unpunished, Lt. Col. Hayles was singled out, his life made miserable by the media upon his return home. Through the help of an investigative journalist, Rob Johnson from the Wall Street Journal, Lt. Col. Hayles was allowed to clear his name just before the Army reneged on his retirement funds.
It’s a classic story of the little man scapegoated for the sins of the higher-up, and a mainstay of war drama.

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Latest Book Column – Library Thing and more…

From this Sunday’s News-Press:
Hot Young Thing: No, fans, I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about LibraryThing! If you like the Web and have a huge library of books, this may be the socializing software for you. Designed by Tim Spaulding, LibraryThing allows you to replicate your home library online. Once up, you can see people who share your tastes, post reviews, browse your collection and those of others, chat with people, and all sorts of things.
Before, I was about to catalog my collection with database software that would have resided on my computer only. But with LibraryThing I get the same functionality and the interconnectivity of the Web.

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Turn of the Screw – Theater Review

My review of Saturday night’s performance of “Turn of the Screw” in Ventura just got published in ye olde NewsPress.
James’ classic ghost story chills

For many of us who have encountered Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” it most probably was in senior-year English.
And for many of us, it was plodding, full of long, long digressive sentences that feel like the main verb has upped and left, tired of waiting.
Yet, in many ways, the story’s influence continues to be felt a full century after its initial publication. Alejandro Amen‡bar’s film “The Others” kept the main elements, but remixed them into a modern ghost story. The two-player adaptation at the Rubicon Theatre reintroduces this tale of madness, sifting out the story from the prose. It leaves the ambiguity of the original intact even as it introduces several more levels of unanswered questions.

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Book Club Confidential – Fall Reading

My latest column from the News-Press (sorry, their own links last for 7 days only):
So we’re kickin’ into fall, or what the two-syllable crowd likes to call “autumn.”

Your summer reading is finished. You got sand all over the dust jacket. You dropped “Anna Karenina” into the bathtub by accident and now the bleedin’ thing has twice as many pages. You took a break from your book club because everybody was out on their brief American vacations driving, driving, driving somewhere. Or you went silly and added way too much to your towering “to be read” stack.
Don’t feel bad. We all do it. In fact, I just cleaned up the house and found that I was subconsciously squirreling away books just so my stack wouldn’t go so high. And now I’ve put them all in one place, I’m going to need a ladder. What was I thinking?

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